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I know exactly what you mean. Except, for me it's a 35mm focal length. I've always been a bit of a wide-angle guy so I guess my "normal" is just a bit wide. The problem is, I haven't had a decent 35mm(equivalent) for a long time, ever since my bag with Pentax LX and handful of lenses was stolen about 10 years ago.

Oh, I've had good lenses since. Right now I'm shooting an E-1 and Zuiko-Digital 14-54 and it's certainly really good but I find that, it being a zoom, I'm always zooming around looking for that sweet spot and then realizing that if I'd just left that lens at the 18mm mark, I would have saved myself some bother and taken more, better pictures. And so that SMC-Takumar 35mm f.2 (and the LX that went with it) keeps coming back to remind me that, while there's nothing wrong with experimenting with different gear (in fact, I'm all for that), always keep on hand your basic "normal" setup because that's what you'll probably end up coming back to in the end.
Cheers
Phil.

I carried a Rollei 35 in a belt pack for about twenty-five years. 40mm f3.5. It took about a month for me to realize I was never going to take out the Nikkormat with a 50mm on it as long as I had the Rollei 35 with me. But I did frequently wish it was a 35mm!

Non-photographers invariably remarked on how "sharp" or "realistic" the pictures were--this was obvious even on 4x6 prints. The only other lens that garnered equivalent praise was/is my Canon 85mm f1.8.

Mike: I'm so glad to find someone else that acknowledges, and likes, a 40mm focal length. I had picked up that irresistible, relatively inexpensive Voigtländer 40mm ƒ/1.4 Nokton form my M7 and M8 bodies on a lark early this year. It's a wonderfully sharp lens with very good contrast and not prone to flares or blowing highlights.

But I cannot actually claim it to be my "favorite" focal length lens for two reasons. First, and perhaps most practically, there are no 40mm framelines on my Ms. (Gee, I wonder why rangefinders were pushed to near extinction.) So I have to guesstimate my image frame as an expansion from the 50mm framelines that the lens sets in these cameras.

Second, at least on the M8's cropped-sensor, 40mm is too narrow to be wide and does not feature that wonderful slight telephoto compression of a 50mm.

Consequently I don't find myself grabbing for the 40mm as frequently as I do my 50mm, 35mm, and 28mm lenses. Last spring, however, I found myself with only the 40mm for an entire day. Honestly, it was fine. I just got into the groove and played to its strengths whenever possible.

Thanks for this wonderful essay, Mike.

Like Jeff, I used to use a Rollei 35 with a splendid 40mm lens, and I never gave a fig that it didn't have a zoom lens. Also, if I could only have one of the lenses I use on my Pentax *ist DL it would be my old Vivitar 28mm I think. Mind you, that's probably as much to do with the rather soft character of the lens, which I like, as the focal length.

You seem to have forgotten a famous ~40 mm lens. The Pentax SMC-FA 43mm F 1.9 Limited and its natural perspective of subjects.

When I graduated HS I sold my beloved K1000 and bought the new Canon T-90. The only lens I could afford was the 50mm kit lens. I photographed my freshman year of college for the Yearbook and I shot Everything with that 50mm 1.8. I mean group photos of 75 people to football games at the intramural fields. I got more lenses and I use zooms today but I learned more about being a photographer in that one year with my one 50mm lens. My other favorite film camera these days is my old Olympus Stylus Epic with the 35mm F2.8.

When I bought a Pentax 67 a few years back I got three lenses, 45mm, 90mm, and 200mm. About two thirds of what I shot was with the 90, and most of the rest with the 45, with the 200 coming in a very distant third. The 90, in 35mm terms, would be around 43mm. It annoyed me. Not long enough to isolate a subject and not short enough to show context, but in the end those qualities turned out to be right most of the time. It was only my imagination that was lacking, and my skill. I'm still waiting for for a small, flexible, responsive, simple and manually controllable digital camera and could live with a single focal length. As soon as I can afford to buy something again. Some day. (Note on simple: look at the top view of the new Leica S2.)

For those who want an aprox. 40 mm equivalent for the APS-C sensor, I would recommend having a look at the Sigma 28/1.8 aspherical. More info on http://blog.christianehoej.dk/2007/10/15/sigma-2818-asph-ii/langswitch_lang/en/

My favorite cameras, for serious work and for informal strolls, are fixed lens Rolleiflex twin-lens cameras. I own three -- an 80mm 2.8 Xenotar, an 80mm 2.8 Planar, and a 75mm 3.5 Tessar. The Tessar model, flimsier-built, lighter, and with an archaic lens design, provided me with most of my more memorable results. Why? I am convinced that this is because 75mm on 6x6cm film is a tad wider than "normal," thus adding a drop of wide-angle-like tension to each image and greater surroundings in environmental portraits and interiors. 40mm sounds fine to me thus!

"The Tessar model, flimsier-built, lighter, and with an archaic lens design, provided me with most of my more memorable results. Why? I am convinced that this is because 75mm on 6x6cm film is a tad wider than "normal," thus adding a drop of wide-angle-like tension to each image and greater surroundings in environmental portraits and interiors."

Stephen,
Possibly also because the Tessar is a nicer-looking lens, even though it's not as good.

Mike J.

Mike
great article. As you, I have always been going back and forth between the 35 and 50mm (with a marked preference for the former) and think a 40mm would replace both in most cases.

On that subject, it would be interesting to have your informed opinion about the single and the multicoated versions, especially the difference in the visual properties and why one should choose one versus another.

I am looking forward to the new 20mm f/1.7 (40mm in 35mm equivalent)on the new Olympus Micro 4/3.

Harold Glit

"On that subject, it would be interesting to have your informed opinion about the single and the multicoated versions, especially the difference in the visual properties and why one should choose one versus another."

Hi Harold,
I haven't compared them.

The choice stems from the fact that some Japanese optical connoisseurs are or were of the belief that a slight amount of veiling glare created by less efficient coating actually helped to reinforce the shadow tones when using B&W film, similar to the way that pre-flashing the film does. I don't know whether this is something that can be demonstrated on the two Voigtlander 50s or not.

Mike J.

Personally I love the Voigtlander 40/F2 Ultron. It's sleek, it's sharp and looks great on my F2 or F3. The 50mm just seems too confining to me, where the 40mm offers a little bit more room.

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